Embarc (Jo’burg)

I heard about this place from the same people who recommended Yamitsuki, so I figured it was a must-squeeze-in in the frantic days leading up to the wedding.

It’s located in the burgeoning restaurant district of Parkhurst, and I reckon this is one to watch. Jo’burg restaurants generally have a long way to go to catch up to Cape Town restaurants, but this one competes evenly. Embarc’s chef, Darren O’Donovan has already competed with the likes of Liam Tomlin’s Chef’s Warehouse and some of SA’s iconic chefs, and come out tops in the () awards in 2020.

The food is elegant, creative, and beautifully presented. The complimentary canapés immediately set the bar for the meal to come. The menu is Tapas style and you can order the Savory dishes as starters or mains. I would highly recommend treating the entire menu as tapas and sharing a variety of the dishes on offer.

We tried the Katafi Prawns, Crispy Squid and Pumpkin and Rocotta Wontons. Each was magnificent but my favorite was the prawns. They were crunchy and bursting with texture and balanced flavour. Highly recommended.

For mains we ordered the Ostrich, the Salmon, the Crab Curry and the Miso Leek Tortellini. We wouldn’t have ordered the last one but I asked the waiter what the most popular dishes were and that one was his first recommendation so we added it to the list, I mean in for a Penny in for a grand, right? All we’re starter portions which we shared. These were all superb. The salmon had a crispy skin on the outside and was perfectly cooked, and together with the “pink stuff” (@Darren O’Donnovan you’re going to have to help me out here), it was delicious. The best dish was by far the crab curry – best I’ve had in Jo’burg, and the ostrich was OMG delicious – it comes medium rare, don’t mess with this one, have it the way the chef makes it. The Tortellini lived up to its recommendation – it was beautifully delicate – if asked to choose, I’d have taken that over the salmon.

Paired with lunch I had the Miles Missop The Introduction 2021 Chenin Blanc, and followed that with a glass of Delaire Graff Simmercourt Chardonnay 2021. Perfect partners with the variety of excellent and balances flavours we ordered.

Jo’burg restaurants don’t often have wine lists that I can get lost in but this one probably has the best wine list I’ve seen in any restaurant in the city. There’s a wonderfully diverse selection of wines that shows the chef and owner cares about this aspect of his experience and has put a lot more extensive research into curating the list he has on offer than 99% of restaurants in Jo’burg . That gets my vote for sure.

Like a Jo’burg taxi, there’s always room for one more so we shared a dessert – a delicately flavored baked white chocolate with lavender and citrus that was beyond delicious. The chef gets the lavender flavours coming through just subtlety enough to make this dish a banger of note. Just look at the expression on Annie’s face after the last mouthful of this dish. Sublime.

My only negative is that the front of house are not on point – in fact if it were me I’d seriously reconsider the future of one or two of the front of house guys. When we passed through the restaurant while they were setting up, the welcome was not friendly, and when we arrived later for lunch I didn’t get the warm welcome I’d have expected to accompany the level of food the restaurant serves. Our waiter was great, but there are two others who don’t fit the orientation to service that Darren is trying to create.

If you haven’t already figured from my raving review, I absolutely loved Embarc. Definitely one to visit if you’re in Jo’burg. Darren mentioned his summer menu, so expect this menu to change seasonally giving you even more reason to visit this place often.

The restaurant is small and intimate yet bright and airy, so book if you’re going to be there for dinner or weekends.

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